This week was a momentous one for those who get excited about elections. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced the date in Parliament (not in front of a large crowd of frenzied supporters, as is normally the case): Thursday, September 3. Nomination Day will be next week – Tuesday, August 18. Thankfully, it will not be a long campaign.
Agriculture: Jamaica’s women farmers work hard. This is a lovely article by Janet Silvera on the farmers of St. Elizabeth, who contribute so much to the family and to food security in general.
Caribbean: Trinidad and Tobago’s elections took place on August 10, and as often happens in Caribbean elections, some less pleasant aspects of the country’s psyche emerge – in this case, as Global Voices’ Janine Mendes Franco writes, racism. The incumbent People’s National Movement (PNM) has won according to preliminary results, but the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) is claiming inconsistencies and possible voter fraud and has not conceded.
Corruption and Transparency: The Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) had to issue a formal apology this week for what CEO Jeanette Calder called an “oversight” on their website on its “MP Tracker” page. “We realized on Monday night that something was very wrong,” said Ms. Calder. Several Members of Parliament were angry that they had apparently received a failing grade on the Tracker; since then, their ruffled feathers have been smoothed, I gather. Of course, in the context of the upcoming general elections all of this takes on great significance and the MPs, while recognizing the tracker as a good thing, want it to be accurate. Now JAMP has taken down the whole website, but should be up and running again by next Monday, August 17. In a radio interview, Ms. Calder looked on the positive side, saying she’s happy because “conversation is deepening around the issue” of transparency. She wants JAMP (a relatively new, ground-breaking project) is improving through “greater engagement with stakeholders.” Democracy means citizen engagement, because after all, Parliament is “our House,” Ms. Calder reminded us. By the way, if you want to know more about JAMP, I had an in-depth chat with the Executive Director and posted my two-part interview on the origins, ins and outs, and philosophy behind JAMP in Global Voices here and here.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has donated one million pounds towards the Unification of Prosecutorial Services project, which is part of the UK’s Caribbean Anti-Corruption Programme. The goal is to improve transparency and accountability in select institutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn is very pleased with the project.
Crime: As I mentioned last week, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been making great strides, not only in murder investigations but also gun seizures recently. The JCF seized over 500 rounds of ammunition, a pistol and cocaine in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth (a generally peaceful small community).
On the negative side, residents of Flamstead, St. James, are angry with a police officer who breached curfew orders and fired his gun at a 2:00 a.m. party recently. No action was apparently taken against him, but a report was made to INDECOM and his firearm was seized. Let’s see if he is held accountable in any way by the St. James police. My question is: why weren’t he and his colleagues there to shut down the party?
Another former St. James resident, controversial Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal, was extradited to the United States this week to face five terrorism charges after a long court battle (he was in custody for three years). Born Trevor William Forrest, he was first deported here in 2007 from the United Kingdom, where he had been in prison.
Speaking of the United States, U.S. Ambassador Donald Tapia told the press this week that a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jamaican Government is being prepared that will address corruption in the smuggling of drugs and guns into Jamaica (which takes place not only at major ports, but at various points around the island). The MoU will likely be signed in late September, after elections, after some four years of discussions. Why this has taken so long to conclude is beyond me. Former Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields is not impressed, tweeting emphatically that the U.S. has not done enough to stem the flow of guns, despite collaboration with the JCF over the years.
Have we stopped to think of the impact of gangs on small and medium-sized businesses? CEO of Solar Buzz Jamaica, Jason Robinson, outlined his concerns this week. The number of daylight armed robberies – even in small towns – seems to be on the increase. What can small business owners do to protect themselves?
Going back to the election issue, I am wary of National Security Minister Horace Chang’s declaration that private security guards will help enforce COVID-19 protocols at polling stations. Will they be armed? Also, will there be local or international observers?
Just a reminder, too, that Parliament voted to revoke all current States of Emergency effective August 17, ahead of the elections. What impact, if any, will this have?
Education: Needy students (around 203,500) will receive J$1 billion in back-to-school grants, Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke announced in Parliament on Tuesday. The children are on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and Poor Relief Programmes (yes, there is still something called Poor Relief). Funds allocated for educational programmes under the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) will also be increased by $2 million.
How are schools going to manage financially? Education Minister Karl Samuda is begging them not to increase their “auxiliary fees,” calling them “untenable” in the current COVID circumstances.
Health: The Ministry of Local Government has finally had enough, and decided to close a list of 17 popular public beaches and 19 river locations across the island, where lots of “COVID parties” have been taking place, obviously in breach of orders. Minister McKenzie has taken note of the numerous social media posts of crowded spaces with people happily splashing around without a care, social distancing not even a thought. The photo below is very pretty, but this spot in particular has been swamped by thousands of visitors on weekends and adjoining properties have suffered considerable damage. Additionally, the numbers of those attending large entertainment events, for which permission has to be obtained, has been reduced from 280 to 230 (still quite a high number?) with more stringent protocols and monitoring to be in place. Small outdoor events will only be able to take place on four days per week up to 10:00 p.m.
By the way… A friend reminded me that the Prime Minister had said more drastic measures would have to be taken if cases reached a certain level. Aren’t we approaching that level now? What of the elections? Or is the idea to get them “out of the way” before the numbers really hit hard? It’s a risky strategy, in my view.
Meanwhile, Minister Tufton noted that much more work needs to be done, after a survey by Don Anderson showed that 51 percent of Jamaicans think they are not at risk from being infected by COVID-19. Has Tufton’s ministry done such a good job that we are all getting complacent? Or is it just ignorance and the “it will happen to someone else, but not to me” attitude? Mr. Anderson calls it “ambivalence.”
Finally, there is much to be clarified in terms of the protocols and guidelines to be produced for elections. At Thursday evening’s press briefing I asked whether those in home quarantine (over 26,000 of them) will be allowed to go to the polling station to vote. I got the impression that this would happen, and that special arrangements would be made for this. However, the Chief Medical Officer was adamant that confirmed COVID-positive cases in isolation would not be allowed to vote, and the Minister seemed to agree with her – but is he also passing on the responsibility to the Political Ombudsman, whose job it will be to issue the election protocols (and monitor them?) There is also the question of special arrangements for senior citizens and the infirm – “vulnerable” Jamaicans in terms of COVID-19. The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) has urged that they must be taken into consideration. And then…what about the right to vote that the Director of Elections speaks of?
The Ministry of Health and Wellness held their weekly press briefing on Thursday night (the Minister flanked by three great women doctors, all of whom did an excellent job – the Chief Medical Officer is a star). The full video (1 1/2 hours) is at the link just above. If you have not watched it, it will provide a good update. By the way, the quarantined community of Sandy Bay, Clarendon, has over 300 residents tested now.
The Ministry is investigating the sudden death of a medical intern at Annotto Bay Hospital, 26-year-old Dr. Yakeev Morris, who had been assigned to the hospital’s paediatric ward just a few months ago.
And then let’s not forget dengue fever. We have been besieged with mosquitoes since recent rains, so we are aware! Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton reports that dengue declined since the start of 2020: from 499 in January to 166 in February, 40 in March, two in April, 10 in May, seven in June, five in July, with one confirmed death.
Politics: Apart from the much-anticipated election announcement, people were not taking the new Jamaica Progressive Party’s (JPP) election platform very seriously. Led by Gilbert Alexander Edwards, it had been officially registered as Jamaica’s fourth political party by the Electoral Office of Jamaica. But, overnight on Friday, the JPP changed its mind. In a press statement, the party said it had encountered much “red tapeism” (including challenges opening a bank account, which many Jamaicans can relate to) and plans to “retool, sharpen our political acumen and strengthen our organization’s internal and external structures and not contest the upcoming general election.”
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Debates Commission (founded in 2002) is ready and has announced the dates for three televised debates between Jamaica Labour Party and People’s National Party representatives: Tuesday, August 25 (social issues); Thursday, August 27 (economic issues); and Saturday, August 29 (the party leaders). The debates will be 90 minutes long and will begin at 9:00 p.m. There will be no studio audience. I don’t think dividing the “issues” up in this way works very well, as so many overlap.
It would be nice to see the party manifestoes however. Instead, we have dubplates and catchy songs with insubstantial lyrics. At a virtual press briefing on Friday, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said the JLP manifesto would be produced “in short order.”
Can politicians stop naming roads, highways, schools etc. after themselves? Having already renamed a road in Montego Bay Edmund Bartlett Boulevard, after the Tourism Minister, some local politicians want to rename a whole community, Barrett Town, Bartlett Town. Give us a break!
Road Safety: The straight, rather smooth and broad road called the “Elegant Corridor” leading into Montego Bay is like a race track. It needs to be properly policed with speed traps 24 hours per day; and could speed bumps not be in place, since several grand hotels are situated there? It is the site of so many traffic crashes. Thankfully we don’t drive along there very often, at all.
So I was sad and upset to hear that a taxi driver, his partner and their infant child were all killed on Tuesday night, when Mark Brown, 40, swerved to avoid a pool of water on the road. He and Tangria Grant, 39, a domestic helper, were killed, along with two-year-old Jamar Brown, who was thrown out of the vehicle when it crashed into a palm tree. Another problem is that the child was not in a proper seat or restraint and may well have been sitting on her mother’s lap. Ms. Grant’s father is enveloped in grief.
One busy morning this week, a JUTC bus crashed into a car near Half Way Tree in Kingston, killing one of the passengers, a woman who has not been identified.
And a senior citizen (82-year-old Ronald Foster) was crossing the road in Brown’s Town, St. Ann on Saturday morning and was knocked down and killed by a motorcycle delivery man, who has since been charged.
On a happier note, the workshops for motorcyclists have reportedly been going very well, with an excellent turnout. Petersfield Vocational Training Centre in Westmoreland will be the site of a new Motorcycle Training Facility. No less than 79 motorcyclists have died this year to date – over one third of the total deaths on the roads. The problem is particularly acute in western Jamaica, where “bike taxis” are popular, especially in Westmoreland.
Tourism: I did feel sorry for Marc Melville, Chief Executive Officer at Chukka Caribbean Adventures, speaking on television this week. He is obviously very anxious after a recent COVID-19 order now prevents tourists from leaving their hotel properties. “Soon after we were allowed to open, we heard the news that tourists will no longer be able to leave their hotels again,” Melville told the Gleaner. So the “COVID Resilient Corridor” isn’t one that tourists can actually move up and down on, as anticipated.
Now, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has tightened restrictions on tourists traveling from certain countries. See my last blog post for details.
Water, water everywhere: Pipes are overflowing joyfully all over the island, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during his four-day tour of western Jamaica, started up some water systems in rural areas that had never seen the stuff before. The PM tweeted at length on the topic of making water available across the island. Former Environment Minister Daryl Vaz is now in charge of Water and Housing at the Office of the Prime Minister. Kudos to the Rural Water Supply Ltd.
Women and Girls in Danger: This is nothing new, as you can see from the names below our women. This week, the JCF reported on several cases of rape, abduction and incest, charging several men for sexual offenses mostly against under-age girls. And yet another pastor has been charged with “having sex with a minor” (can we just say “rape”?) Absolutely sickening.
Kingston Creative (the arts collective that I have highlighted in previous posts) now has an artisan store on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Kingston, space provided by the Urban Development Corporation. Customers will be able to purchase art and crafts online via an Instagram page, but meanwhile connect with KC on Instagram here. Congratulations to Andrea Dempster Chung, Doris Gross and all the KC team, who never give up despite the challenges! Resilience is the word that springs to mind. Meanwhile, a new mural is under way at the Shaare Shalom Synagogue, 92 Duke Street in Downtown Kingston, the work of Shanique Stewart and Jason Goss. This is beautiful!
And that’s not all… On August 24, Kingston Creative in partnership with American Friends of Jamaica and Fresh Milk in Barbados will open submissions for Digital Creative Training, a programme to help creatives with digital knowledge & business skills. Stay tuned for more…
Congratulations to 16-year-old Gabrielle Hoo, the Blood Bank’s youngest donor for 2020, her friends and sponsors, who contributed no less than 55 units during Ms. Hoo’s recent blood drive. The National Blood Transfusion Service has been suffering from a shortage even greater than usual, during the pandemic. Did you know each unit can save up to three lives?
The women of Bonny Gate, St. Mary, are getting back into their training with a grant from Digicel Foundation. This group is reviving the tradition of embroidery, made popular by the now-closed Allsides Embroidery Workroom, where I once bought pieces for gifts. They also crochet and practice the local hardanga techniques. Since the pandemic started, the group has been turning its hand to creating masks. It’s not only a source of income for rural women who spend much of their time at home, but they also take great pride in their work.
Thank you to Alexis Goffe for a most enlightening and useful online training session on how to use the Access to Information Act. I think this will inspire me to use the Act to obtain data that I cannot find online, even with the help of Miss Google! I am looking forward to next week’s session on the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Tenth Anniversary (Tuesday August 18 at 4:00 p.m. Jamaica time).
My sympathies are extended to the family and friends of these victims of the violence that continues to undermine our society. They are not numbers, they are people. These are all women, and I mourn their passing.
Four women have been murdered in recent weeks in Windward Court, off Windward Road, East Kingston – reportedly because of a feud between two families. Two women were reportedly shot dead and several were injured in a beauty salon last week (unfortunately, I do not have their names). Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell and residents are calling for help in the violence-plagued community.
A woman was shot dead early on the morning of August 14 in Linstead, St. Catherine, while sitting in a bus. 58-year-old Millicent Fisher-Gunn was a supervisor/route inspector at the Transport Authority.
Another woman, a fish vendor named Theodora Edwards (“Linda”), was shot dead at 11:00 a.m. last Sunday morning at her stall on Heywood Street, downtown Kingston. She was described as a good woman who often cooked meals for the less fortunate. Why?
A Montego Bay businessman reportedly asked an off-duty policeman to escort him with a large amount of cash on Saturday evening. They were allegedly attacked by robbers, and the policeman shot an unidentified man dead.